Mind & Matter – Notes On Schrödinger’s Essay


There have been many great thinkers from who have pondered about what reality means and who’ve tried to explain what and how exactly this gift and process of consciousness occurs and how individual and collective consciousness contribute to the experience of our reality. Right from the Ancient  Greeks to the 20th Century and Einstien, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Albert Huxley etc. However, in this post I’d like to touch upon and break down the brilliant essay by Physicist & Biologist Erwin Schrödinger.

Schrödinger is perhaps most famously known for his quantum superposition paradox, or thought experiment well known to people as “Schrödinger’s Cat”

For the sake of people who are reading about it for the first time, it is thus, Schrödinger’s cat: a cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. If an internal monitor (e.g. Geiger counter) detects radioactivity (i.e. a single atom decaying), the flask is shattered, releasing the poison, which kills the cat. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that after a while, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. Yet, when one looks in the box, one sees the cat either alive or dead not both alive and dead. This poses the question of when exactly quantum superposition ends and reality collapses into one possibility or the other.

Which can be interpreted as follows: the cat is either alive or dead depending on what you consciously or unconsciously think it is, making the cat in the box simultaneously alive or dead.

Coming back, I picked up Schrödinger’s book ‘What Is Life?’ a while ago and I’ve been reading it with a keen interest on his take on the reality conundrum or rather our living experience of reality and how it’s formed.

Mind and Matter is an essay in the aforementioned book.

You can read the whole essay here: http://web.mit.edu/philosophy/religionandscience/mindandmatter.pdf

The Physical Basis Of Consciousness

Schrodinger mind and matter

The rather bold statement it begins with echoes what this experience is in a nutshell, a construct of our sensations, perceptions and memories. The experience is a construct of our body’s nervous processes and nothing more. I would like to think of it as the widely used term, collective consciousness i.e a oneness of many minds akin if you would like as many branches of the same tree. The experience or controlled hallucination is more inward out than outside in as proved and put forward by Anil Seth & his team, which I touched upon in my previous post: https://wordsforeveries.wordpress.com/2018/05/17/confluence-in-the-void-of-oneness-a-brief-delve-into-the-teachings-of-stephen-hawking-aldous-huxley-anil-seth-and-sri-aurobindo-to-explain-lifes-questionswestern-and-indian-thought/

As Schrödinger writes, it is convenient to regard it as existing objectively on it’s own but it certainly does not become manifest by it’s mere existence. Which begs the question put forward by theoretical physicist John Wheeler: “Does the Universe Exist If We’re Not Looking?” http://discovermagazine.com/2002/jun/featuniverse

Would the world and universe exist if we weren’t there to observe it?

Schrodinger writes:
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Would it have remained a play before empty benches, not existing for anybody, thus not existing?

Of course this question invites scorn from the rationalist’s point of view where the rationalists believe that reality has an intrinsically logical structure.

I would further like to add that reality is subjective depending on each unique individual mind’s sensations, perceptions and memories, yet being one in a mind-at-large, as Huxley writes. So it is experienced as believed and nervously constructed, yet all the while being one whole.

As Anil Seth says in his TED Talk “When we agree on the hallucination, we call it reality”

This One-many brain world view has been touched upon in Eastern and Indian thought.

However, Schrodinger further says that thinking of consciousness as anything other than a nervous process runs into unprovable speculation.

In a further elabouration, Schrodinger writes about how repeated nervous activity fades out of consciousness while if there is a change or different (nervous & hence environment) it “shoots up into the conscious region”.

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He explains it thus:
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In essence he is saying that, stronger repeated routine events fade out of consciousness and differential events are conscious.

But of course reality is not constructed by every nervous process, the subconscious and uncontrolled processes like breathing, digesting etc do not interfere with the conscious ever changing experience.

However, the new nervous processes that cause change in our reality are very much in consciousness.

Differentials are what makes the subjective reality an even more delightful experience.
The “changing turns of bliss” as I had written in a poem of mine.

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So the ‘well memorized’ repetition of a string of events are the agreed reality or rather the agreed memory or hallucination.

He writes: “Therefore consciousness is associated with those of its functions that adapt themselves by what we call experience to a changing environment.”

He ends by saying : “Consciousness is associated with the learning of the living substance; its knowing how is unconscious”

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It’s a collective nervous construct and that’s the simplistic beauty of it. Where it came from and how it came to be(the big bang, evolution and so on) are for another day and are questions that keep physicists & prominent thinkers awake at night. But for now let us immerse ourselves in this cellular delight and rejoice, rejoice we have no choice.

In all, its a brilliant essay by the great mind that is Erwin Schrodinger and definitely something to ponder on. His eloquently put explanation of our reality and this human experience remains one of the classics of the 20th century.

Mind & Matter

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